Christian Moueix is a man of distinction. Reserved, serious, intelligent. And he crafts distinctive wines. His efforts to resurrect the renamed Bélair-Monange estate in St.-Emilion (recently merging it with Magdelaine) along with his flagship properties of Trotanoy and La Fleur-Pétrus in Pomerol, place him among the elite château owners in all of Bordeaux. For additional background, you can reference my 2011 en primeur notes as well as my Bordeaux blog from 2010.
On this rainy morning, Christian was making a rare trip over to the Médoc for the unveiling of the new Calon-Ségur, which was recently sold. In his stead, his son Edouard joined me for my tasting of wines both owned by and exclusively distributed by Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix.
"The '12s have brighter fruit, more energy than '11," said Moueix. "More tannins than '11 too, and riper tannins. The harvest wasn't late in terms of its timing, but we were waiting for maturity because of the drought that slowed things down in August."
"In 2012, we did more canopy management than usual, trimming one-third more leaves than a normal year, because of all the moisture we had in spring. But then, boom, the drought came and the vines were stressed—the early moisture had been soaked up by the vines and didn't get to the water table. That means the early-maturing soils and the soils that could retain humidity were the favored spots in '12. So for example, at Trotanoy, the clay portion was clearly better than the gravelly portion," he said.
"Then during harvest, we had to move fast. We picked on dry days, but it was raining at night, so the humidity was always there," Moueix said. "People needed to move fast and we had to bring in pickers from other regions of France, as everyone had a short window to pick, Right Bank or Left Bank."
"In general, Bordeaux did a good job of saving the fruit. But the top terroir has the depth and you can see a bigger difference between top terroir and the rest," Moueix said. "In the great vintages, that gap is not as big. In '12, there are big gaps."
The more forward-styled, easily accessible wines in the portfolio start with the Château La Serre St.-Emilion 2012, which is deliciously bright and lively, with open-knit red cherry and raspberry notes, flashes of spice and a nice lacy finish. The Château Plince Pomerol 2012 has a lightly dusty frame, with taut plum skin, macerated cherry and singed orange peel notes. It's lightly sinewy through the finish but has good flesh. The Château Lafleur-Gazin Pomerol 2012 has elegance, with bergamot, singed sandalwood, orange zest and steeped raspberry notes nicely wound together with good energetic acidity through the finish. The Château Bourgneuf Pomerol 2012 is round, open and plump in feel, with cherry pie, raspberry sauce and red licorice notes and a friendly feel to the breezy structure. It's a bit shy on stuffing through the finish, but has pretty fruit.
From there the wines step up, taking on more grip and showing the sometimes chewy tannins of the vintage. Overall the Moueix family seems to have massaged the wines well through their vinifications and early stages of élevage.
"We do like the shape of the tannins in '12, so we didn't change the vinification too much," said Moueix. "A little less rémontage near the end. But not as big a change as in '11, where we did not like the shape of the tannins so much and had to be more careful to protect the fruit. The key for us was when to drain the vat. The fruit was fragile and we didn't want to overwhelm it with the tannins. One day the tank could taste bright and fruity and the next you could see it getting very tight and tannic. So you had to stay on top of it and move as quickly in the cellar as you did in the vineyard during the growing season."
The Château La Grave à Pomerol Pomerol 2012 is distinctly minerally now, with an iron note threading through the core of plum, red currant and bergamot notes. It has a nice flash of rooibos tea on the finish, with finely beaded acidity too. It fleshes out steadily in the glass and is giving a nice showing today.
The Château Latour à Pomerol Pomerol 2012 is juicy, with a nice compact feel to the core of raspberry, blackberry and anise, lined with solid, fine-grained grip and backed by a long, bergamot- and black tea–infused finish. This estate continues to be a very solid performer. Don't overlook it.
The Providence Pomerol 2012 has serious density for the vintage, with layers of raspberry and plum pâte de fruit lined with singed spice and framed by well-integrated apple wood and black tea notes. It is very, very solid.
The Château Certan de May Pomerol 2012 has lovely singed vanilla, black tea and sandalwood aromas mingling together, with subtle plum sauce, steeped cherry and red currant fruit hanging in reserve. It's graceful and perfumy overall but has solid latent depth on the finish and it should expand a bit more during the élevage.
The Château Hosanna Pomerol 2012 has a muscular core of plum and raspberry fruit, along with dark currant, black licorice and roasted apple wood that gives a depth and power that belies the vintage's general quality level. But that persistent, muscular edge on the finish is offset nicely by well-buried acidity. This is clearly a step ahead of the 2011.
The three flagship estates here are among the top bottlings in their respective appellations in 2012, a vintage where the Right Bank and its early-ripening Merlot was generally favored over the Cabernet Sauvignon areas of the Left Bank. The Château Bélair-Monange St.-Emilion 2012 is remarkably pure, sleek and refined, with a faint chalk thread perfectly embedded in the core of red currant, Bing cherry and damson plum fruit. It's very sleek, with refined tannins and very impressive length. Balanced to a T, this is a wine of distinction and it seems destined to improve as the remaining limestone portions of the vineyard are replanted. This is also the first vintage that includes the portions from the former Magdelaine estate. I'll mention it again: If you're looking to build a vertical of a minerally, suave, classy St.-Emilion that is trending up, the ground floor for Bélair-Monange is now. Move quickly though—the 57-acre estate managed to make only 1,300 cases in 2012.
The Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2012 delivers mouthwatering purity from the start. It is remarkably floral today, with bergamot, orange blossom and cherry notes out front, pushed by a hint of violet and then backed by a juicy linzer- and cassis-filled core. A flicker of savory threads the finish, adding further range and distinction. This sneaks up on you, starting slowly but expanding dramatically in the glass. It's a full stride ahead of the 2011. This is the first vintage that includes fruit from the recently purchased 5-plus acre parcel of Château Guillot that is located next to Le Pin (a coup for the Moueix family). It shows.
Finishing off the tasting is the broad-shouldered Château Trotanoy Pomerol 2012. The wine, always among the more powerful Pomerols, packs black currant, fig paste, bay and tobacco notes in its core along with a long, charcoal-framed finish. The 2012 has the wine's typical power and depth, but with the freshness of the vintage, offering terrific length and cut. It won't be able to keep up with the stellar 2009 and '10 duo over the long run, but we need wines to drink while we wait for the heavy hitters to mature.
Shortly after my tasting and before publishing this blog, Moueix released his wines to kick off the en primeur season. He reduced his prices by approximately 10 to 15 percent from his 2011s, proving that a man of distinction can also be a man of common sense.